A complete guide to the HSC STEM syllabus

07 Nov 2022


There are plenty of options for STEM study at HSC level. Here, we unpack them all and look at how they can take your career further.

When it comes to picking subjects at HSC level, there’s a STEM course for every interest and career goal. In this guide, we take a closer look at every STEM subject in the NSW curriculum.


Biology is the study of living organisms, and the subject invites students to investigate their structures and functions. Biology students look at topics like reproduction and genetics to deepen their understanding of processes that form the living world. Other topics of study include DNA, infectious disease and the use of technology to induce genetic change.

Read the full Biology syllabus here.

University courses

At the undergraduate level, biology is often studied within a broader Bachelor of Science degree. To study biology at the tertiary level, consider courses with biology major streams, such as the Bachelor of Science at the University of Sydney or University of New South Wales.

Career options

Biology can lead to specific sub-specialities, such as marine or microbiology, as well as lead to work in areas like ecology, forensics and biosecurity.  


Chemistry students get the chance to delve deeper into the properties of matter, exploring the exciting world of chemical reactions. Chemistry at HSC level involves both theoretical knowledge and practical education, with students getting the chance to put their learning into practice in the laboratory. Topics at Year 12 level include organic chemistry and acid/base reactions.

Read the full Chemistry syllabus here.

University courses

Studying chemistry at undergraduate level is generally achieved through a major stream as part of a Bachelor of Science degree or equivalent. Applicable courses include the Bachelor of Science (Chemistry) at the University of Wollongong, and Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne.

Career options

Specialising in chemistry at the tertiary level can open the door to chemistry-focused careers as a synthetic chemist, medicinal chemist or analytical chemist, as well as less obvious paths to work in climate science, policy advice and industrial research.

Earth and Environmental Science 

A multifaceted STEM subject, Earth and Environmental Science teaches students about the composition of our planet, including plate tectonics, water, organic life and our climate. Students develop skills in the areas of Chemistry, Physics and Biology, combining practical lab and fieldwork with a detailed theoretical understanding of the Earth’s natural processes, and human environmental impact.

Read the full Earth and Environmental Science syllabus here.

University courses

Environmental science may be included as a major stream in generalised Bachelor of Science degrees, but some universities will offer specific courses in its study. Consider the Bachelor of Environmental Science at the University of New England or equivalent degree at Griffith University.

Career options

Careers that lead directly from this area of study can include environmental conservation, water policy, waste management, geology and more

There are plenty of great careers in STEM for those who look to their passions."
Nav Phokela

Engineering Studies 

An introduction to the fascinating and complex world of engineering, this course teaches students everything from the history and social context of engineering to the skills required in the industry. Students study subjects such as biomedical engineering and aeronautical engineering, and learn about broad topics including hydraulics, electricity and electronics.

Read the full Engineering Studies syllabus here.

University courses 

Engineering encompasses a wide spectrum of specialities, and there’s plenty of opportunity to study both broadly and narrowly at university level. The University of Sydney offers Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) in a range of disciplines, including Mechatronics Engineering, Civil Engineering, and Biomedical Engineering.

Career options

Engineers are suited to a huge range of crucial roles. Classic examples of engineering include civil engineering (which involves planning and designing infrastructure), and electrical engineering. Other career streams include software engineering and bioengineering.

Food Technology

While the subject is often associated with its practical components – the preparation and presentation of food – Food Tech also leans into the STEM side of life, giving students a closer look at areas like nutrition and food production technology. Students look closely at areas such as human diet and health, food production techniques (including agriculture) and the effects of climate on food.

University studies

Food Technology can lead students in a wide range of directions when it comes to further study. Some students may wish to follow a path to a specific course such as the Bachelor of Food Technology and Nutrition at RMIT or a Bachelor of Nutrition Science at ACU. Others may wish to include a food technology or nutrition element within a broader Bachelor of Science degree, such as the Food Science major stream at the University of Melbourne.

Career options

There are plenty of great careers in STEM for those who look to their passions, even when it comes to areas like food. Potential careers include becoming a nutritionist or dietitian, as well as broader options in agricultural science.


Mathematics actually consists of four different courses: Mathematics Advanced, Mathematics Standard, Mathematics Extension 1 and Mathematics Extension 2. Students don’t need to take all four, but depending on which subjects are taken, topics range from theoretical concepts like calculus and vectors to practical applications like financial mathematics.

University studies

Students with a particular passion for maths can certainly study it specifically at undergraduate level. For instance, the University of Queensland offers a Bachelor of Mathematics. Otherwise, as is common for many areas of STEM study, generalist Bachelor of Science degrees offer mathematics majors.

For students adept at Mathematics but looking for other study options, areas like engineering, statistics and software design are all favourable. 

Career options

Practical, maths-focused careers can include work as a statistician, broad careers within finance and teaching at a range of levels.


Students of Physics at HSC level get the chance to build their knowledge of motion. Topics of study include the various forms of energy, electricity, magnetism and the interplay between these concepts. Subjects include kinematics, dynamics and electromagnetism.

Read the full Physics syllabus here.

University courses 

As you would expect, Physics can be studied as a major stream in a Bachelor of Science degree, which can include specific areas like nanoscience and astrophysics. Students wishing to study Physics in more depth can do so at postgraduate level with both research and coursework generally available. 

Career options

Physics careers can include nanoscience, astrophysics and a range of roles in research and academia, in areas like quantum and particle physics. Outside of these, a knowledge of Physics can be helpful in careers including medical science, artificial intelligence and finance. Physics graduates are often sought after for their skills in understanding and analysing data.  

Science Extension

Science extension is not a subject which deals specifically with one area of science, but instead challenges scientifically-minded students to further their own knowledge. The subject provides students with the opportunity to follow their passions with a research project, refining their skills in understanding the process of scientific research, and presenting their findings. Students get the chance to demonstrate their dedication to the scientific method through rigorous research across the subject.

Read the full Science Extension syllabus here.

University courses

While it’s not exactly the same as the other subjects listed here, students who are particularly interested or adept when it comes to scientific research are able to study accordingly. Generally, degrees which include an Honours year make that focused on a thesis or research project. However, for those looking specifically to careers in research science, Monash University offers the Bachelor of Science Advanced – Research.

Career options 

Students with a passion for scientific research should look to careers as lab or field-based research scientists, which can essentially include any of the major scientific disciplines. Staying within academia – such as pursuing a PhD or postdoctoral studies – can also be good career options.

Software Design and Development

As the name suggests, this subject is perfect for students with an interest in the inner workings of computer software. Students are given the chance to study areas including data systems, software development, and computer components. By being introduced to the core principles of software, students are set up to pursue a greater level of specificity at university level if they wish, or otherwise apply the practical skills to other areas of STEM careers.

Read the full Software Design and Development curriculum here.

University courses

Students interested in software should consider one of the range of software engineering courses available at the tertiary level. Some examples include the Bachelor of Engineering Honours (Software Engineering) at the University of Sydney and the Bachelor of Software Engineering at RMIT. 

Career options

Graduates with software specialties can look to a huge spectrum of careers. As we are well aware, there are few areas of our world unaffected by the rise of digital technology, meaning software experts are in demand everywhere from designing financial systems, security engineers, game designers and data analysis. Software design can be considered a fairly future-proof career choice.